Daniel Carruthers still reporting for us SaddleDrunkers from China.
The Gran Fondo concept has been popularized in recent years in Europe, America and Australia; but it is only just the beginning of the Gran Fondo boom that is about to happen in China. More Chinese riders are increasingly attracted to long distance challenging cycling events and Nordic Ways in conjunction with Kuai Sports have been the first to host the Gran Fondo event in China back in 2012 at Yanbian. It has taken a while for the concept to take hold, but with the Yunnan government standing behind the concept it looks like the Colorful Yunnan Gran Fondo event will pave the way for many such events in the future; and it is also seen as a perfect way to promote tourism and place the unique region on the map.
Race Report: Carruthers Perspective
The 181km stage was an epic one that splintered the field into pieces and was a big GC shake up with Wei Kui from the Specialized team taking over the Green jersey with his third place in Yuxi. None of the top four winners from the first stage were present in the top 30 and lost a considerable amount of time. The parcours was undulating around the Fuxian Lake that was buffeted with strong prevailing winds, punctuated by several climbs that wore down the legs of the riders, especially the last long climb after 160kms of racing in the legs. Quite a number of riders struggled with the distance and it was a day for riders to gain time ahead of the mountain time trial in Chuxiong.
How it unfolded
It was reported that young riders from the sport development team “ruled” the day, however that is not entirely true as they were allowed to escape and gain time without reaction from the peloton as they did not have direct bearing on the overall GC of the race. In the opening stanzas of the stage, leaving the city of Yuxi, it was a long steady ramp of about 3% on a highway and there were a number of attacks from the local provincial ‘pro’ teams, each were chased back and I drove hard a couple times to keep moves in check. On the next ramp up, a move of four riders was allowed to slip clear and I sat in the peloton thinking they would be brought back soon. They quickly gained 40 seconds and then the gap was a minute when crested the last long false flat climb out of Yuxian; it was at this point I decided to drill it on the front to reduce the time gap. The most help I got was from the Indian Quick Team rider. Between me and him we traded good pulls to keep the pace close to 50km/h and the gap was controlled to hover around the 50-60 second mark. However we got no help from the other teams. The Specialized team was content to sit on my wheel and provided no assistance. When I saw this, I thought maybe one of them somehow got across and was in the move, but I found out that all of the riders were safely in the peloton. At that point, I decided to stop chasing and I told the Indian to also stop chasing; it was at this point the gap to the four leaders ballooned out to well over two minutes as the peloton slowed right down to 35km/h. The four-leaders were given a great head-start. Just before the approach to the Fuxian Lake, a couple of riders including one Specialized jumped away to have a 500m gap on the peloton. Once on the shores of the lake, the road narrowed and was more twisting and turning with undulations. Some more attacks went and were reeled back in. At this point I made a counter-attack and jumped across to the group that was dangling of the front. We became a powerful group of 8 riders including Hu Hao and Wei Kui from Specialized. We quickly put the peloton out of sight and I thought that this was the move of the day as we all co-operated well and maintained a high speed. However on the long climb, we were caught by the peloton led by the Mongolian Team Attilia. I managed to get over the climb with the skin of my teeth to remain in the front group that now contained all of the GC contenders, but on the next short climb it all came back together again.
Another Specialized rider attacked and went away solo after the descent without reaction. It was at this point I attacked hard and the Indian rider from Quick joined me. Both of us swapped turns and we caught up with the Specialized rider; the three of us rotated well together to increase the gap. About 10 minutes later, we were joined by seven “pro” local riders and the group became ten riders. We rotated reasonably well in the cross-winds but not with efficiency I would see back home in New Zealand. Five minutes later we were joined by yet another group of five riders led across by John Cattrall (English rider). One of the five riders happened to be Wei Kui who would later climb brilliantly and ride his way into the Green Jersey.
There was no real cohesion in the second break of 15 riders. Many riders were being lazy, particularly the ‘pro’ riders; always dropping wheels or missing turns on the front. It was quite a jagged procession around the Fuxian Lake. John, myself, and the Indian were doing most of the work on the front. John in particular was driving the pace hard in order to keep our advantage of the chase groups from behind. It was also particularly frustrating when I would finish a pull on the front and no one is rotating through. Then when I drift down the pace-line, the Chinese riders would open gaps thinking I would jump in and save them from a turn on the front. With 40km remaining, I had a small twinge of cramp so had to back off from riding hard on the front in order to survive the last stage of the race. When the final climb came again, Wei Kui from Specialized accelerated away quickly, leaving me with no choice but to ride tempo up the climb. I was surprised that several riders from the group also got dropped and finished behind me. It was a particularly hard last 20km into block head wind to finish the 181km stage. I finished 12th on the stage and officially 7th overall when you take out the five ‘pros’ that were in the front group. Wei Kui, together with the ‘pros’ caught up with the three young talented riders that had been in the breakaway move all day. The 16 year old Li Wenjie was the last rider to be caught at the 170km mark and he came in 5th out of the six riders that finished in the front group. John Cattrall was also dropped on the upper slopes of the climb, but was able to TT well to limit his losses to be 1min 34 behind Wei Kui. Cattrall who had finished 2nd overall at the Masters Tour of Chiangmai in Thailand, is a proven climber and has a solid chance in tomorrow’s 24km individual time trial. If there is one rider that could upset Wei Kui’s position, it would be the English-man. I’m sitting in 7th overall on GC, over five minutes down on the GC leader so my ambition is to limit my losses so that I can remain in the top 10 for the Colorful Yunnan Gran Fondo.
We have moved further west into Yunnan and staying in Chuxiong now. You can see the difference in the air quality and the dramatic change of scenery as we have left the urban areas of Kunming. Stay tuned for some amazing photos after tomorrow’s stage.
Thank you Daniel and good luck.